As the nation starts preparing to reopen, many questions surround what the “new normal” will look like and just how quickly our economy will fully recover. Two executives at Vaco recently had a discussion on the technology implications arising from Covid-19, and the domino effect on people, process and compliance. Here are five key takeaways from their conversation:

The business lifeline is redefined

Work-from-home mandates will most likely be experienced again, so companies are adding work-from-home technology to their business continuity planning. This includes accelerating considerations and plans to migrate applications and file servers to the cloud; utilize software as a service (SaaS); implement cloud-based systems; engage onshore and nearshore managed service providers; develop artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and robotic process automation (RPA) solutions; enhance cybersecurity; digitize processes; and increase the quantity of equipment that supports remote workers. The investment in these IT-enabled initiatives is justified by the ability for companies to maintain secure, timely, and efficient processes during crises, and support the health and welfare of employees via effective WFH conditions. In Cincinnati, several of our banking and insurance clients have made these investments and continue to prioritize technology that migrates data to the cloud or automates repetitive transaction processing.

Offshore partners will be scrutinized

Organizations are strongly considering shifting a portion or all of its managed services received from countries ill-equipped with WFH technology. Call centers, help desks, and systems and data support must continue at the same if not greater level of efficacy during a crisis. Several clients in Cincinnati have experienced disruptions. While wholesale changes in strategy and contracts are not imminent, executive leaders are looking for ways of mitigating this risk going forward, either through contractual means, joint-partnership development or new on shore partners with rapid scaling capabilities.

New technologies will emerge – and that will create new risks

Expect more investment in risk management, including compliance with data privacy laws. Highly sophisticated risk mitigation plans must be designed and implemented to mitigate vulnerabilities such as cyberattacks and data breaches. Secure, powerful, safe and user-friendly attributes are paramount for effective and sustainable technology. While hiring in technology has slowed or stalled, one branch of hiring in Greater Cincinnati that remains robust is in cyber and information security risk.

AI, ML and RPA will lead to human empathy as a differentiator

Automation and process re-engineering that accompanies advanced technology drive substantial efficiencies. A realignment of roles and responsibilities may be imminent. Furthermore, with increased use of AI/ML/RPA, a greater emphasis on human touch is necessary. This drives the need for tech-savvy professionals who are passionate about injecting empathy and wellness concerns into serving internal and external clients – the new differentiator. Businesses will need to react to increased automation and AI/ML/RPA by engaging or upskilling employees who can explain AI decisions; perform strategic analyses; successfully demonstrate high-level thinking, innovation and decision-making; and provide highly effective relationship management.It may be best to hear a client’s voice on this to understand the thought process.

Technology projects that affect costs will probably get green-lit first

Many companies suffered losses as a result of this pandemic. The first six weeks of the economy’s re-opening will be a time of re-planning and re-prioritizing. Expect IT projects with a cost-cutting business case to be the first to secure approval and funding. The Cincinnati region has more Small/Medium-sized Businesses (SMBs) than many cities of comparable size; family and privately held businesses are a backbone to our community – see the Goering Center. This group represents a healthy portion of our client mix, too, and we’re seeing more and requests for projects that can shave real dollars off the income statement.

Employing a holistic approach to business operations (i.e., people, process, technology, security, and services) that is fully tested and implemented will move the pendulum extremely close to 100% operational capability during a crisis. As companies prepare to “go back to work,” ensuring that the right tools and policies are in place will provide the foundation for both a successful transition and a roadmap to navigate future business continuity scenarios.

Steve Shoemake is managing partner and founder of Vaco’s Cincinnati office. Franzuha Byrd is chief information officer at MorganFranklin Consulting, a Vaco company.